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SoE condemns attacks on journalists by US rioters and police

The Society of Editors (SoE) has joined a growing chorus of industry bodies in expressing outrage and deep concern at the way in which journalists are being targeted by both rioters and the police while attempting to cover the current rioting in the United States.

SoE condemns attacks on journalists by US rioters and police
Antonio Guterres: “When journalists are attacked, societies are attacked.” Photograph: Munshots on Unsplash.

The SoE says the multiple incidents of violence against journalists attacked while carrying out their roles reporting the reaction to the death of George Floyd in the city of Minneapolis shows how the media has become a target following years of unwarranted abuse by politicians.

“Such actions are worrying enough, but for the police to be targeting journalists with pepper guns and for arrest instead of protecting them as they carry out their vital work is deeply alarming,” said SoE executive director Ian Murray.

“The wider picture is even more disturbing. If a country such as the United States which has press freedom written into its constitution can act in this way, what message does it send to regimes elsewhere who will be emboldened even further to turn their police against the media.”

The Society’s condemnation comes as it was revealed a British photographer was among the first journalists to be arrested during the unrest which has seen scores of media targeted.

Adam Gray, 33, a New York based photojournalist for agency SWNS, had been taking photographs at the rallies in the City.

He was, says the SoE, thrown to the ground by police with several officers climbing on top of him in order to restrain him and forced him into handcuffs.

Despite showing his press pass that had been issued to him by the US State Department at the UN Plaza, Adam was arrested and put into a police vehicle.

He was charged with unlawful assembly near Union Square and spent twelve hours through the night in custody amongst the protestors.

Adam said afterwards: “The whole time that I was being arrested, I was shouting that I was press and showing them my Foreign Press card, but they just didn’t seem to care.

“I get that in the heat of the moment you might get pushed or grabbed, but as soon as you say that you’re press, it normally stops there but not this time.

“I’ve worked in many other countries doing work like this and never has it gone as far as this. I couldn’t believe it.”

The US Press Freedom Tracker reports how it is working to verify almost 70 instances of journalists being assaulted, arrested and having their equipment damaged at the weekend as violence erupted in several US cities.

Incidents include:

  • Three members of a CNN news crew were arrested while covering protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
  • A student journalist at the University of Maryland was chased by police and maced three times while covering protests in Columbus, Ohio,
  • A TV news crew was shot at with pepper balls by a police officer while broadcasting live on during protests in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • LA Times journalist reported being hit with tear gas and rubber bullets alongside her photographer and a group of other journalists in an incident where a local cameraman was later arrested.
  • Two members of a Reuters TV crew were hit by rubber bullets in Minneapolis.

The violence and targeting of journalists prompted a response from UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres who condemned the actions of police, saying: “When journalists are attacked, societies are attacked. No democracy can function without press freedom nor can any society be fair without journalists who investigate wrongdoing and speak truth to power.”

President Trump also commented on the media, but attacked some sections for their reporting, claiming they were spreading fake news.

He tweeted: “The Lamestream Media is doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy. As long as everybody understands what they are doing, that they are FAKE NEWS and truly bad people with a sick agenda, we can easily work through them to GREATNESS!”

The day before, he accused Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and MSDNC of producing more “disinformation” than “any foreign country, even combined”.

Ian Murray commented: “The Society of Editors and other bodies have been warning for some time that continual, baseless attacks on the media were undermining its credibility and the importance of its role in society. We see now those fears made manifest in the actions not just by the baying mob but also the police who appear to see the media as part of the problem they are trying to solve.

“It is a dangerous, slippery slope for any society to go down. What is needed are words of support for the role journalists are undertaking, a role that in its self puts them in the frontline, support such as that shown by the UN Secretary General. What is not needed is for politicians to make it appear it is acceptable to target journalists as we are witnessing.”

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christopher Deloire said: “President Trump’s demonisation of the media for years has now come to fruition, with both the police and protesters targeting clearly identified journalists with violence and arrests.

“It has long been obvious that this demonisation would lead to physical violence. RSF has warned about the consequences of this blatant hostility towards the media, and we are now witnessing an unprecedented outbreak of violence against journalists in the US.”